Goat Games gives animal sanctuaries fundraiser a sporting chance

It’s not every day you see an Oscar winner with livestock on their doorstep. Jessica Due remembers the day two years ago when Joaquin Phoenix carried a black calf onto her property.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “We were able to save a mother and her newborn.”

Work to be done at the Farm Sanctuary, a 26-acre facility nestled between the Sierra Pelona and San Gabriel mountains in Acton, where animals rescued from abuse, neglect – or, in the case of Phoenix cows, slaughter – have been given a safe haven .

The calf that Phoenix named Indigo and her mother, a 5-year-old Wagyu he named Liberty, are two of more than 700 animals that spend their days at Acton or the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York Each animal has a name and a story to tell.

But providing food, shelter, medical care, enrichment and physical space for so many animals is expensive. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Acton about three weeks after Liberty and Indigo, two of the Shrine’s most important sources of income — tours and donations — dried up. So this year, it’s joining the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in southeast New York and 11 other animal welfare groups in the Goat Games, an Olympics-inspired virtual event where human participants run, walk, hike, or bike for money to gather and raise awareness of a participating sanctuary.

Kathy Stevens kisses a cow on the forehead as they sit on the grass.

Kathy Stevens is the founder of Goat Games.

(Catskill shelter)

Kathy Stevens, founder and CEO of the non-profit Catskill Sanctuary, launched the event in August 2020 and hosted it remotely in the same month that the postponed Tokyo Olympics were scheduled to take place. The Catskill Sanctuary was the only participant this year, raising more than $42,000 from supporters who asked for donations for every mile they ran, hiked, biked or swam.

“You know, 2020 sucked for everyone,” said Stevens, whose facility operates on an annual budget of just over $2 million. “Fundraising for so many nonprofits has hit rock bottom and so many companies have gone bust. So we looked for a path that we thought was different and unique. Something fun.

“But that didn’t take away from the urgency of the work, as sanctuaries across the country save the lives of literally thousands of animals each year. We are the place where animals, which most of society considers food, experience what love feels like.”

The Goat Games, which will resume August 12-15, raised more than $217,000 for 10 sanctuaries last year when a real Dotsie Bausch from Irvine, Olympian and world record cyclist, silver medalist in 2012 in team pursuit, was the sixth most successful individual fundraiser.

Kathy Stevens is flanked by two horses.

“Refuges across the country literally save the lives of thousands of animals every year,” said Kathy Stevens, Founder of Goat Games.

(Catskill shelter)

As the pandemic has eased, so has the financial situation in many of the participating sanctuaries, from River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary in Spokane, Washington to Little Bear Sanctuary in Punta Gorda, Florida, to ease. But things aren’t quite normal just yet, and lives are still at stake, says Stevens, who turns away desperate animals her facility can’t afford for lack of resources, be it space, staff or money.

“You always have to say no. It costs a lot of money and requires a lot of staff if you take in a bunch of sick cows or a bunch of sick horses. This is heartbreaking,” said Stevens, whose 150-acre sanctuary is home to more than 200 rescued animals, including an old blind horse named Buddy, more than 50 goats and Tucker, a 2,500-pound ox.

“We do the greatest good for the greatest number. And sometimes doing the best means saying no.”

Farm Sanctuary, the country’s first animal sanctuary, was co-founded in 1986 by Gene Baur, an author and animal rights activist who has long campaigned against factory farming and for a more just and respectful food movement. It joined the Goat Games this year because it, too, has been feeling the financial squeeze created by COVID.

“This hit us hard,” said Josh Murray, Farm Sanctuary’s director of marketing. “We love bringing people into the sanctuary. It’s one of the most powerful experiences humans can have. [But] We had to cancel many face-to-face events.

“This is a way to run an event, an event remotely, that anyone across the country can attend.”

Murray said residents who end up in the sanctuary are often survivors of accidents, natural disasters, or incidents of cruelty and abuse that have required local law enforcement to step in to save the animals.

Others are simply given away by their owners.

“We have farmers who have had a change of heart,” he said. “Perhaps there is an animal they have bonded with that they cannot in good conscience send to slaughter. So they will look for a place to give them a home.”

That’s how the two cows from Phoenix ended up there. When Anthony Di Maria, President and CEO of Manning Beef Slaughterhouse in Pico Rivera, learned that a cow had given birth, he refused to separate mother and baby, a common practice in the industry, and instead wanted the animals in one animal shelter were brought. Phoenix, a longtime animal rights activist, stepped in to arrange the move, and two days after winning a best actor Oscar for “Joker,” he lifted a 65-pound calf from a trailer.

“They’re the cutest,” said Due, senior director of animal care and rescue at Farm Sanctuary, of Liberty and Indigo. “They have other cow friends that they bond with and they’re fine here.

“It’s her home.”

To participate in the Goat Games or to learn more, visit www.thegoatgames.org

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-30/rescue-animals-goat-games Goat Games gives animal sanctuaries fundraiser a sporting chance

Alley Einstein

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